Plants and Animals as Problem Solvers

Agriculture has changed over time as the population of the world has grown and technology has improved. Farmers are always thinking of ways they can improve their farming practices in order to better protect the land, the water, the air and keep feeding the world!

Most crops grown by Minnesota farmers are annuals. Annual plants complete their life cycle in a single year. This means that they are planted, grown and harvested all in one year. Crops like corn, soybeans and wheat are annuals. Farmers have been growing and harvesting annual crops for over 10,000 years.

The Problem

In Minnesota, most annuals only grow during the summer months, so when they are not growing the soil is bare from about October to May. Wind and heavy rain wash unprotected soil away.

Kernza Root
This image contrasts the roots of perennial Kernza with those of annual wheat. Plant roots hold the soil in place and make spaces for water to seep into the ground. Photo courtesy of The Land Institute and Jim Richardson

Kernza® The Problem Solver

The Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota works with researchers from around the world. They are focused on developing new crops that farmers can grow to earn a living as well as protect the soil and water. One promising innovation is a distant relative to wheat called Kernza®. Unlike corn, soybeans and wheat, Kernza® is a perennial grain. Perennial plants don't have to be replanted each year. Perennial grains, like Kernza®, help farmers decrease their time in the field planting, and save valuable soil from being washed or blown away. Perennials like Kernza® have roots, stems and leaves that protect the soil, like a blanket, all year round. With its deep, dense root system-which can reach depths of more than 10 feet-Kernza® can improve water quality and soil health, reduce erosion, and keep carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Perennials live for many years and reproduce several times.

Bakers, millers and food companies already have developed products that incorporate Kernza® as an ingredient, including whole grain, flour, pancakes, crackers, cookies, pasta and baked goods. Farmers are able to sell the Kernza® they grow to these food companies so they can continue to make money and feed the world. Researchers are working with bakers and chefs to develop even more products that use Kernza® so farmers have even more options.


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